free exercise

Our periodic reminder for journalists: The Freedom From Religion Foundation has an agenda

Our periodic reminder for journalists: The Freedom From Religion Foundation has an agenda

It’s almost humorous.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation — whose name succinctly characterizes the organization’s agenda — complains about the conservative Republican governor of one of the nation’s most religious states speaking at a church.

A leading newspaper in that state rushes to report the claim that the governor is doing something unconstitutional, as if it’s breaking news.

Except that it’s really the same old, same old — and regurgitating the anti-religion group’s talking points as if they’re the gospel truth is not great journalism.

I came across the story that sparked this post via the Pew Research Center’s daily religion headlines today. Believe it or not, it was the second headline on Pew’s rundown of top religion news nationally. Ironically, the story came from my home state of Oklahoma, even though I hadn’t heard about it.

Here is the lede from the Tulsa World:

OKLAHOMA CITY — A group advocating for the separation of church and state on Tuesday accused Gov. Kevin Stitt of using his office to promote religion.

Stitt in his official capacity as governor is speaking at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at Guts Church in Tulsa, according to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The event uses his title to seek attendees.

In a Monday letter to Stitt, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wisconsin, said if Stitt wanted to discuss religion, he should do it as a private citizen and not as governor.

“Using the Office of the Governor to promote a specific religious mission is unconstitutional and sends a direct message to the 30 percent non-Christian adults who you serve that they have the wrong religion and that only your personal god can solve Oklahoma’s problems,” the letter said.

“We are telling Gov. Stitt, as we tell all pious politicians: ‘Get off your knees and get to work,’ ” said Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It’s not OK in Oklahoma or any other state for public officials to misuse their office to promote religion.”

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The New York Times does its 'religious liberty' thing, with zero input from voices in middle

The New York Times does its 'religious liberty' thing, with zero input from voices in middle

Back in 2004, the public editor of The New York Times wrote a famous column with a very famous headline, which said: "Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?"

GetReligion readers with long memories will recall that Daniel Okrent followed that headline with this lede: "Of course it is."

That column contained lots of memorable quotations and it remains must reading. However, here is one passage that was especially controversial at the time and it remains controversial to this day.

... (F)or those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it's disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading.

Okrent was, let me stress, not talking about the great Gray Lady's editorial page. He wasn't talking about op-ed pieces or even first-person features in the newspaper's magazine. The public editor -- a post recently shut down by Times management -- was trying to describe the urban, blue-zip-code tunnel vision that often slants the newspaper's hard-news coverage, especially on issues of culture, morality and religion.

Thus, I do not know what Okrent would have said about the "Fashion and Style" essay that ran in 2013, written by Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters, with this headline: "The Gayest Place in America?" The lede:

WASHINGTON -- My earliest sense of what it meant to be gay in the nation’s capital came more than a decade ago when I was a summer intern. I was a few blocks from Union Station when a congressman walked by and gave the reporters I was standing with a big, floppy wave hello.

That's fair game for first-person analysis writing. However, I do think that, if Okrent time-traveled to the present, he would raise a question or two about the hard-news Times feature by Peters that dominated my email over the Thanksgiving weekend. The provocative headline: "Fighting Gay Rights and Abortion With the First Amendment."

The subject of this A1 story was the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative religious-liberty group that has become a major voice in cases at the U.S. Supreme Court and elsewhere. Here is the thesis statement, high in the report:

The First Amendment has become the most powerful weapon of social conservatives fighting to limit the separation of church and state and to roll back laws on same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

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Scouts use this school for free, but Bible club must pay: What might be strange about that?

Scouts use this school for free, but Bible club must pay: What might be strange about that?

The Indianapolis Star had an interesting church-state story recently. It concerns a federal lawsuit filed by a Bible-based club charged fees to use a public school for meetings, while other groups don't have to pay.

I thought the Star did a pretty nice job of treating each side fairly, and the story's lede is excellent.

However, one key aspect of the story disappointed me. It's like there was some kind of gap there, yes, linked to religion. More on that in a moment.

First, though, let's start at the top. This chunk of the story is very, very long, but you need to read it all:

What's the rent on a Pike Township classroom? Well, it depends on whom you ask.
The Boy Scouts will tell you it's free. So will the Girl Scouts, Girls Inc. and a character-building group called Boys II Men. 
Ask the Child Evangelism Fellowship, though, and they'll tell you it costs $45 each time you want to use a Pike Township classroom. 
CEF says the fee is too high -- and it's unconstitutional.

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Kentucky court says free speech, not faith, at issue in pride fest T-shirt case. Press says: Huh?

Kentucky court says free speech, not faith, at issue in pride fest T-shirt case. Press says: Huh?

There can be little doubt that Blaine Adamson, owner of Hands On Originals, whose subtitle is "Christian Outfitters," is sincere in his commitment to his faith and beliefs. Just watch the video above.

Whether or not that's enough to allow him and the firm, known as HOO, to reject a print order for T-shirts promoting a gay pride festival is the hot topic in and around Lexington, Kentucky, these days.

Last week, a 2-1 vote of the Kentucky Court of Appeals came out in favor of lower court rulings backing Anderson. So-called "viewpoint discrimination" is allowed, with the decision stating, "Nothing in the fairness ordinance prohibits HOO, a private business, from engaging in viewpoint or message censorship."

This is a ruling that doesn't involve, or even discuss, Adamson's free exercise of religion rights, but rather his right to accept or refuse printing orders based on his principles. That's a key difference from other cases across the country, but the local paper -- which presumably has been close to the case -- skipped over it.

Let's see what the Lexington Herald-Leader said in reporting the ruling:

“Because of my Christian beliefs, I can’t promote that,” Adamson told a Human Rights Commission hearing officer. “Specifically, it’s the Lexington Pride Festival, the name and that it’s advocating pride in being gay and being homosexual, and I can’t promote that message. It’s something that goes against my belief system.”
In 2012, the Human Rights Commission said that service refusal violated the city’s fairness ordinance, part of which prohibits businesses which are open to the public from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation.
However, the Court of Appeals disagreed on Friday, ruling that speech is not necessarily protected under the fairness ordinance.
While the ordinance does protect gays and lesbians from discrimination because of their sexual orientation, what Hands On Originals objected to was spreading the gay rights group’s message, Chief Judge Joy A. Kramer wrote in the majority opinion. That is different than refusing to serve the group because of the sexual behavior of its individual members, she wrote. A Christian who owns a printing company should not be compelled to spread a group’s message if he disagrees with it, Kramer wrote.

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Washington Post seems to rather like a pagan's tale of goat horns and driver's licenses

Washington Post seems to rather like a pagan's tale of goat horns and driver's licenses

The dear old Washington Post likes people who take bold stands in defense of the free exercise of their religious beliefs -- so long as those freely exercising their beliefs, it seems, aren't -- you know -- committed Christians in a tizzy over a certain kind of wedding ceremony or elderly nuns trying to defend their church's teachings on sexuality.

Consider, for example, a certain Phelan MoonSong (or Moonsong, both are out there in an online search) of Millinocket, Maine. He doesn't drive but needs a government-issued I.D. to get on an airplane, as do we all these days.

So he trundled off to the motor vehicle bureau, wearing the goat horns that are now part of his normal religious attire. The Post picks it up from there:

“As a practicing Pagan minister and a priest of Pan, I’ve come to feel very attached to the horns, and they’ve become a part of me and part of my spirituality,” Moonsong said, noting that he periodically soaks the horns in patchouli and cedar oil to keep them fresh and leathery. “The horns are part of my religious attire.”
Moonsong feels so attached to his horns that he refuses to take them off for anyone — including the state of Maine. In August, Moonsong said, officials at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Bangor told him that he would need to remove the horns to receive a state-issued ID.
When he tried to explain to bureau employees that he is a “Priest of Pan” — one who considers the horns his “spiritual antenna” — they were not moved. They told that the horns would have to be approved by Maine’s secretary of state.

You can imagine what happened next: MoonSong's complaint sort-of stagnated until he dropped the ACLU card:

... Moonsong said he managed to avoid hiring a lawyer and filing a lawsuit.

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Marco Rubio reaches out to believers, pushing something called the 'free exercise' of religion

Marco Rubio reaches out to believers, pushing something called the 'free exercise' of religion

If you are following the madness that is the GOP pre-primary season, then you know that one of the most interesting showdowns is over in the Cuban-American bracket, where Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio are facing off.

At the heart of that crucial battle is the bond between Cruz and large parts of the Sunbelt evangelical world, which is a huge advantage in crucial states such as Iowa, South Carolina and, of course, Texas. The Rubio people know that and have been making strategic moves to reach out to the world of cultural conservatives.

That effort is complicated, a bit, by two issues -- both of which are addressed in a recent New York Times news feature that ran under the headline, "As Marco Rubio Speaks of Faith, Evangelicals Keep Options Open."

The first issue is quite simple, and the Times team handles it quite well. Rubio's religious background is complex, to say the least. The world is not full of Cuban-Americans who were raised Catholic, converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then went back to Catholicism, while also attending his wife's Southern Baptist congregation.

Also, The Times dedicates quite a bit of space to Rubio's ties to New York financier Paul Singer, a strong supporter of same-sex marriage causes.

This leads to the crucial passage in this report:

Mr. Rubio’s more open discussion about his religion is cracking a window into a part of his life he does not often discuss. Sometimes he goes on at length, as at the dinner in Des Moines, demonstrating a fluency with Scripture that surprises his audience. ...

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Post-Supremes debate begins: Freedom to 'teach' faith or 'free exercise' of religious beliefs?

Post-Supremes debate begins: Freedom to 'teach' faith or 'free exercise' of religious beliefs?

Once again, I was on the road when all heckfire broke out on the religion-news beat, leaving other GetReligionistas to dive into the breach after the U.S. Supreme Court's long-predicted 5-4 decision -- complete with majority opinion sermon from Justice Anthony Kennedy -- approving same-sex marriage from coast to coast.

Much of the coverage was a celebratory as one could have expected in this post-Kellerism age, especially in the broadcast news coverage.

Click here for an online summary of that from the conservative Media Research Center which, to its credit, offered readers transcripts of some of the broadcast items so they could read the scripts for themselves and look for signs of journalistic virtues such as fairness and balance. A sign of things to come? Among the major networks, the most balanced presentations on this story were at NBC. Will that draw protests to NBC leaders?

At the time of the ruling, I was attending a meeting that included some lawyers linked to Christian higher education, one of the crucial battleground areas in American life in the wake of this ruling. There, and online, it quickly became apparent that the key to the decision -- in terms of religious liberty -- is whether one accepts Kennedy's general, not-very-specific acceptance of First Amendment freedoms linked to religion or whether, along with Chief Justice John Roberts, one noted that Kennedy left unsaid.

Journalists must note this, if they want to prepare for the next round of battles in -- as described in previous coverage of the HHS mandate wars -- the tense church-state territory located between the secular market place and actual religious sanctuaries. That middle ground? Voluntary associations that are defined by stated doctrines, while interacting with public life to one degree or another. Think colleges, schools, hospitals, day-care centers, parachurch ministries, adoption agencies that have, for students and staffs, doctrinal covenants that define their common lives and teachings.

Think Little Sisters of the Poor. Think Gordon College.

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